Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or organizations who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.
Allow me to share a story concerning project stakeholders.
I once observed a situation where an immature PM was knighted to manage a project with an upcoming regulatory deadline. Software changes were needed in order to meet reporting requirements. The Project Sponsor told the PM that it was critical that the project be delivered on time – no exceptions!
The PM hit the ground running. She formed a project team. Within days, the project team started the programming changes. The team worked evenings and weekends to deliver the project on time.
One week prior to the go-live date, the trainer provided a training class for the users. A few people who had not been involved with the project were included in the class. During the training, one of the users exclaimed, “This project has a direct impact on other critical operational processes. You cannot implement these software changes without addressing those needs first.”
The PM and project team were enraged by this discovery. Why is it that no one told the team about these requirements earlier? The PM and most of the team members saw these last minute requirements as an impediment to success.
What is a Stakeholder?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says, “project stakeholder are individuals, groups, or organizations who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.” In simple terms, a stakeholder is anyone affected positively or negatively by a project.
Why do PMs get into trouble with stakeholders? Let’s take a look a common mistakes PMs make and what PMs can do to improve stakeholder management.
Costly Failure Points (and What to Do)
Failure to identify stakeholders. Stakeholder management starts with this essential step. How can we manage stakeholders if we do not first identify them? Stakeholder identification starts day and continues throughout the project.
Failure to understand stakeholder expectations, needs, and concerns. Once we have identified stakeholders, PMs should communicate the purpose of the project and seek to understand how the project may impact the stakeholders.
Failure to understand the stakeholder’s power and interest levels. PMs should not manage all stakeholders in the same manner. Consider completing a Power/Interest Grid. Each stakeholder is assessed in terms of their Power (Low or High) and Interest (Low or High). Closely manage the High Power, High Interest stakeholders.
Failure to invite the stakeholders to the table early. Want a way to engage stakeholders early? Work with your Project Sponsor or Champion. Invite stakeholders to participate in the development and maturation of the project charter. Ask the stakeholders to share their thoughts on the problems, goals, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, and high-level risks.
Failure to keep stakeholders updated. Some PMs do an excellent job in engaging the stakeholders early. However, as the PM gets busy later in the project, the PM may fail to keep the stakeholders in the communications loop.
Failure to engage stakeholders. Things surface that may impact stakeholders, but the PM may fail to make the stakeholders aware of the situation. As projects progress, the PM should continually ask the project team, “who is potentially impacted?” Engage stakeholders in the conversation as needed.
Failure to identify, assess, and manage stakeholder risks. PMs should regularly monitor and control risks. As new risks are identified, identify stakeholders who may be impacted and engage the stakeholders where appropriate.
Failure to communicate with stakeholders for change management. A good Change Control Board (CCB) will help ensure appropriate stakeholders are considered when change requests are submitted. CCB decisions should be documented and communicated to stakeholders.
Start identifying the stakeholders early in your projects. Seek to understand the impact to each stakeholder. Identify and resolve conflicts between stakeholders as quickly as possible.
Throughout the project, the PM should continue to identify and manage stakeholders. These simple steps will enable you and your project team to cross the finish line in record time.
Question: In your experience, what has been the most challenging part of managing stakeholders? What advice would you offer to other PMs to improve stakeholder management?